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Friday, December 30, 2011

Tortellini (homage to Woman)

It's me, Man. I just want to say how good Woman's tortellini (one of my favourite types of filled pasta) were on our Christmas lunch.

Please note the perfect execution of the fiddly pastry work.

She decided to serve them using a fond brun, which is unusual I think but worked spectacularly well and was magnificently clear and delicately deep.

Well done, Woman! I'm glad to have worked as a lowly commis on this enterprise.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Angler's Inn (Perth): a bit of a wasted journey

(Visited: 18/12/2011)

 This Inn just North of Perth has recently changed its website address, but hasn't seen it fit to change the links in other sites such as Viamichelin or even in their business card. All the links sent to an error page, so that it was impossible for us to see the menu online. Moreover, the owner equally did not see fit to inform us, when we booked on the phone, that on Sundays they do not serve their proper menu. They serve what they call 'High tea' instead, a stripped down selection of simple fare, admittedly at bargain prices. Since we had driven almost one and a half hours expressly to try this inn, it was frustrating (had we known, we would rather have driven an equal distance to our beloved Gordon's. for their simple but exceptional lunch menu).

Anyway, let's set frustrations aside and see what's on offer. The table are formally laid, with white clothes, which is a surprise as we were expecting something rustic. Maybe we're in for some refinement instead? Or is it nice punchy pub fare? Whatever, as long as flavours shine!

The starters, while simple, showed promise. The chicken liver parfait with Cumberland sauce and Melba toast

while minimalistically presented was pleasantly intense and rich without being overpowering, with a good smooth texture, though we would have welcomed even more of the nice sauce, or some other component to cut through the one-dimensionality of the dish.

And a Prawn and crevette cocktail with Bloody Mary jelly

pleased with good quality crustaceans (note, in two varieties), dressed in a balanced way and well complemented by the jelly. Only problem for the dish: the spoon for the jelly didn't fit the narrow part of the glass...It's a small deal, of course, but it set us wondering what on earth the staff was thinking, if at all, when deciding how to present this dish. Worrying.

Then this came. 

The Chef's roast of the day (turkey) 
If we were the Chef we wouldn't have wanted to associate our title with this dish. Although nothing tasted positively bad  - in fact the turkey had good flavour - it was a catalog of culinary mishaps. The meat was quite tough and dry (even by turkey standards), the gravy that could have partly compensated for this just a pool of bland starchy water, the croquette chewy, the fondant potato not buttery and soft as it should be. The stuffing tasted exactly of nothing. The vegetables were too few. The jellies had a vague flavour of cranberries, but it was so evanescent we could not tell.

The other main, a Cumberland sausage served in lieu of the lamb shank listed on the men

showed that they source good produce here at the Angler's Inn (both sausage and potato), but the sauce once again was deeply depressing, not bad but lacking any depth whatsoever. The puree was good if a bit salty. And come on, in such a basic preparation, give us at least a proper vegetable accompaniment! A lazy dish indeed.

For the desserts you are invited to walk to the trolley and help yourself. These are our two selections:

You see a chocolate praline, a carrot cake, a lemon posset (which we thought was a creme brulee, it looks like it, but it tasted of lemon posset) and a gingerbread. You know, they must have a good chef de patisserie or a good granny in the kitchen...while simple stuff, this is exactly the quality that a pub or an inn should aim for: nice moisture and lightness in the cakes, nice balance and lemon flavour coming through brilliantly in the posset brulee, and  nice crumbliness in the praline.

The service was ever so sweet but also a little awkward and ineffective. Also because of Man's own ineffectiveness (not admitting to his myopia he just nodded when the wine label was showed to him instead of checking properly that it was what he had ordered), a New Zealand Pinot noir was served instead of a Burgundy. Anyway it was reasonable and the good news is that it also saved us £20.... The carafe of water was frustratingly kept away from our table but there was no proper topping up. And there were those Fawlty Tower scenes, 'Do you want a sauce with the sausage?'.'What sauces do you have?'. Hesitates. 'Ehm, horseradish, ehm...mustard, ehm...'.'OK I'll have the horseradish'. Comes back one minute later: 'Sorry we don't have any horseradish'. Nobody enquired whether we liked the food. Long time to get our coats, and so on.

The cost was £66 with a £26 (very well-priced) wine, so on this front, full marks.

It's clear that they have some ambition at the Angler's Inn, but on the basis of what we've seen on our visit they have some way to go to attain the level of proper pub fare, lacking the punch of the best examples, and the setting is anyway too refined for a pub. So they probably aim at some higher level of cooking on non-Sunday days, though again on this day's performance we struggle to see how they manage.  We assume and hope that the Head Chef wasn't in the kitchen that day. For what we've seen, Graeme Palliser at 63 Tay Street 10 minutes away in Perth is streets ahead in terms of culinary ability. Our modest impression is that the Angler's Inn should really be an Inn, forgetting about formalities and fine dining (the type of menu they seem to have on non-Sunday days), and focusing on serious, gutsy, properly made rustic fare.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Game at Koffman's

Knowing our passion for game, the powers that be at Koffmann's (read: Sandro who is normally in charge of the FOH when we visit on Sundays), although absent on the day, had made sure that a partridge and and a hare would be available for us even if not on the menu...

The hare was cooked perfectly, the soft succulent saddle offering the most obvious delight, and the almost oversize looking 'cake' with all the less noble but supertasty bits (the lovely liver scrumptiously stuck in the middle), despite its size and thus the risk of being dry still held a surprising moistness. At any rate, as in all game dishes at Koffmann's, there's never a moistness problem thanks to the generous sauces; in this case a shiny masterpiece of dark, smooth, muscular flavour. This was memorable stuff: hard to believe that such intensity and fullness can be conjured up in such a simple looking dish.

The truth is, of course, that it 's not simple...

To be fair, the partridge descended a few circles towards Earth, with the breast ever so slightly "overmuscular" and dry (taking perfection as a benchmark). It may have had to do with the cooking or with the hanging - we are reliably told that these little beasts, even when coming from the same batch, have different optimal hanging periods. BUT, apart from the excellent flavour of the meat, what made this dish stunning nonetheless was once again, you've guessed it, the sauce. There was a beguiling smokey flavour which after asking we believe came from an aged Armagnac. It was the key for the door to new dimensions, and you want the dish to last, and last, and last.

Accompanied by the usual well made chips, this was part of one of our many loooong enjoyable Sunday lunches in this unique venue that doesn't stop fascinating us. Even in the absence of our expert guides from the Italian Connection, the aforementioned Sandro and the sommelier Massimiliano, service was sweet and working as clockwork as always, in a nicely busy room.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dinner at Latium

Ever dependable Maurizo Morelli delighted us with a fine Autumnal treat a couple of weeks ago at Latium. What is more Autumnal than white truffles?

They are simply irresistible, every time they were brought to a table the whole room would be infused with their aroma and we were sniffing like crazed bears. That the tagliolini are made masterfully (light, elastic), boiled exactly to that evanescent critical point, and that the condiment is judged to perfection makes this dish a heavenly experience.

The other primo piatto was a scallop raviolo with courgettes and clams

a whiff of of the sea (splendid clams) in the trademark light pasta that made an excellent counterpoint to the earthy flavours of the other dish.

This Pan fried fillet of red mullet, white onion sauce, sautéed green cauliflower with Taggiasche olives and sun dried tomatoes dressing was so joyous and sunny that it made our picture red...(we'll never learn)

You can see from the picture how accurately the skin has been made crispy. This dish was airy and light, full of intense Mediterranean flavours, in its genre a small masterpiece.


you've already seen here...

We finished with a ravishing pair of cannoli

To be precise: Sicilian cannoli filled with ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate, orange sauce. The crust is crunchy to the right point, the ricotta filling sweet, luscious and indulgent, the sweet and sour notes from the sauce are almost painfully intense.

And this  Domori dark chocolate mousse, poached pear in red wine, Marsala sabayon and white chocolate sauce

 was a feast: very clean, intense, bitter chocolate mellowed by the sweet sabayon and white chocolate sauce, with the moistily delicious poached pears.

The cost of all this is seventy pounds (plus the truffle supplement).

Now, what to say? For such first quality produce, cooked at this standard, this is breathtaking value. For example, you'd spend ninetytwo (plus an even bigger truffle supplement) at the celebrated and Michelin starred Zafferano. Yet we think that Needham (the Zafferano chef) for how serious a professional he is, just cannot compete with Maurizio in terms of understanding and mastering of Italian flavours. Not to mention that in the disappointing visit we reported, now a long time ago, we found a large bone in a fish, and this is a documented objective major mistake and not a matter of taste, a piece of sloppiness which we've never encountered in the dozens of times we've been at Latium. Yet the bloggers, inspectors and critics of this world seem to be blinded by atmosphere, location and glamour to what is actually in the plate. As far as we are concerned, we have no desire to be 'processed' by the Zafferanos of this world and to feel like cash cows, we'll happily leave that kind of place to others and we'll equally happily continue to be delighted by modest, talented, under-recognised Maurizio for many years to come!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lunch at Darroze: not spectacular food, but a feelgood place

In case you are the self-conscious type, be advised that, in a full room, our table was the only one where men were not wearing a jacket. Fortunately, the dress code only imposes not wearing trainers and denims, so we just scraped through...

A pleasant lunch at Helen Darroze, because we were with nice friends, because the room and tables are really comfortable, because they spoil you with nibbles, and because the food is good.

But memorable, no, the food definitely wasn't. And the service, strangely, was all over the place (wrong wine orders, long waits between dishes, napkins left unfolded - sorry, if you forbid us from wearing our beloved denims then we insist you play by the rules).

Anyway, for £42 inclusive  of two glasses of wine in a two-starred venue in the most expensive part of London, it would churlish indeed to complain.
Maybe the most impressive offering was a pan-roasted pluma of Iberico pork larded with Taggiasche olives, served with potato gnocchi, poivrade artichoke, and roasting jus, that showcased Darroze's strong, bold flavours, and her liking for Mediterranean ingredients.

This dish concentrated flavours and had a nice depth and variety, and a kind of solid elegance (note the expected perfect trimming and turning), too, the only negative point being the aggressive seasoning.

Other dishes were less convincing, such as a slightly underwhelming starter of warm salad of white coco beans from Bearn, served with pimientos del pequillo (those Mediterranean flavours again), rocket, roasted calamari, and gratinated razor clams: all these ingredients, and the £5 supplement, made one dream; but the end result, like our pictures, definitely did not attain the realm of dreams.

It was hard to see the point of all this. And, sad to say, the calamari was even verging on the tough side. She seems to be best when she's bold with flavours.
What makes this restaurant so ideal for spending a long, unrushed and relaxed afternoon with friends is that you really do get pampered here. Look, these are not your ordinary petit fours:

And only your sense of self-restraint places a limit to your choice from the trolley - while they put the pieces on an awkward holder with limited space, they always come back to see if you want more...

And they even give you some caneles to take home: be critical as you want about the food, but you are certain to be in a good mood when you come out: at least at lunch, a feelgood place rather than one for perfect food.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Consorzio (Torino): pure simple pleasure

Suffice it to say that, finding ourselves in Turin for two days, what we really were looking forward to - in a city graced by several Michelin blessed restaurants - was a dinner at Consorzio, a recently established trattoria in the 'Quadrilatero' area of Turin, where competition among this sort of simple, low-cost, modern or traditional trattorias, is intense. 

Woman was particularly happy that dinner time had arrived, so that Man could finally stop going on and on and on in praise and in anticipation of their anchovies starter

Plump, succulent, fresh, the fried ones with a lovely and light crispiness and the cured one on luscious butter, in a dish that in presentation and execution typifies the 'tradition & modernity' style that is the hallmark of this place.

This is Piemonte, the land of raw beef. Here you get a raw beef trio of delicacies from Scottona (heifer under 16 months of age) beef of Fassona breed.

We have a 'battuta al coltello' (tartare) that melts, melts on and caresses your palate with its just-right texture (cut neither too thin, nor too coarse), a more assertive salsiccia and an ever so delicate piece of thigh. A simply perfect dish.

We could not resist a third starter of 'Cardi gobbi', a thistle-like vegetable typical of here, served with potato puree, a goat cheese fondue, and a quite inspired touch of home-made bottarga (fish roe):

This was as delicious as ever judging with the emotion, with intriguing flavour combinations, even if, from a mean-spirited critical viewpoint, the dish perhaps still needs some adjustments in proportions and preparation to become perfect.

Ah, well but there were more specials on the night, so how could we say no to a fourth starter of a cold meat terrine with a devilish mandarin mustard? 

So decadently satisfying, with the sprightly tangyness of the (very!) hot mandarin cutting through the fat of the terrine... very good.

For primi, since as luck would have it that night they had the Piemonte King, i.e. the Tartufo (truffle) d'Alba (they don't get it supplied regularly), by which we mean this baby:

So one choice was easy: tagliolini al tartufo

What to say? To say that the pasta was elastic and well-made without being overly eggy, that it was a touch too buttery, to utter these mundane praises or faint criticisms seems ridiculous compared to the Heaven where those magic 7 grams of really fresh, high quality truffle (putting to shame the moulding rubbish you are sometimes served elsewhere) flies you.

We were very tempted by their adventurous Ravioli di cervella (brains), but opted instead for the more conservative pasta alla chitarra with cime di rapa (broccoli sprouts)

Unexpectedly for us the home-made pasta had no eggs, and thus a typically resilient bite. A very rich sauce exalted the excellent broccoli, and a touch of long ripened cherry tomatoes from Campania added a special twist (though there need to be more in the dish to make a real impression, e.g these many would be ok with us :)

A main of crispy chicken

accompanied by sauteed 'cicoria' on our request, was definitely not your KFC variety: cooked with great skill, the meat buttery and with a superb flavour, protected by its crispy layer, we could have eaten tons of it.

Desserts, desserts...

This chocolate and hazelnut torte

was a good start, but...we are freaks with pannacotta, and incredibly it is so rare to find a properly made one even in Michelin starred venues. But this one

is another perfect dish. Just the amount of thickener that prevents it from collapsing, so that its full creaminess is preserved, a high quality milk, and a gentle accompaniment of three different jams (one of which from the typical Chinotto oranges). Delicious.

And since Woman had been spotted eyeing the dessert on another table, here magically comes an homage of "bombette": 


The scream of "don't bite" arrived too late for Man, while judicious Woman gulped hers in one bite, and can still remember the extasy of the runny custard and the flaky pastry - gorgeous!

The prices are extremely kind; without the truffle (which at 4 Euro per gram was anyway faaaar less expensive than elsewhere, at equal quality) a three course meal for two comes to less than 100 euros with water, coffee and an excellent 27 Euro Barbera d'Asti (that would have set you back 70 pounds in London). Ah, and since we were arriving from Scotland, we were treated to a tasting of this amazing Japanese fellow:

Well, we're not whisky experts but the depth of smoky, orangey notes and infinite persistency we experienced was sublime.

Fired up by the fearsome (for us fading middle-agers...) energy of the two young founders Pietro (Vergano) and Andrea (Verra), 

this is for us the hottest ticket in town as far as 'trattorie' go. Propelled by stratospheric raw materials, the simply prepared dishes here are pure delight and a discovery journey trough Italian ingredients. In fact, not only Italian: on the night we visited there were on offer oysters from Brittany and cheeses from... England. Talk of open-mindedness. 

Is it all a dreamworld of perfection? Of course it isn't, the more elaborate the dishes the higher the chance of finding (if you are really mean) some minor cooking imperfection or imbalance in flavours. But this is if you are really mean, as we said. Because eating at Consorzio is pure joy, to which one should abandon oneself, and it is hard to think of other places where one finds such an assortment of high quality produce. 

A special mention also for the wine list (done by Pietro), absolutely original, full of surprises, and clearly a labour of love. 

Ah: they also have the best espressos we've had in Turin (and we've had many, and many good ones). Well done guys - you'll go far. 

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